“I don’t want to be limited by other peoples desires or abilities.” (Jordan Rudess)
Interview with Jordan Rudess by Phil Ashcroft
To the outside eye things had seemed pretty stable in the Dream Theater camp. Founder members John Petrucci (guitars), John Myung (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums) had been mainstays since the mid-80s, whilst singer James LaBrie had joined in the early 90s and appeared on all but the debut album, and even the new guy, keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess, has been around for over a decade. Therefore it came as a huge shock to the band and its fans when undisputed band leader Portnoy announced his departure late in 2010. After a brief period of confusion the rest of the band decided to carry on without him and started to audition many of the world’s top rock drummers. Obviously surprised by this development, Mike Portnoy asked for some sort of reconciliation, stating that he’d only wanted some time off, but with personality issues obviously going deeper than anyone realised, the remaining members declined his offer and continued their audition process, selecting the wonderful Mike Mangini and entering the studio in the new year to record their new nine-track opus – the autobiographically titled ‘A Dramatic
Turn Of Events’.
All my previous Dream Theater interviews have been with either Mike Portnoy or singer James LaBrie, so I was particularly looking forward to speaking with Jordan Rudess for a different view. So the first big surprise as I waited in the press area at London’s High Voltage festival was that the whole band turned up to do five separate interviews simultaneously, even the usually reticent John Myung and new drummer Mike Mangini are on press duty. I shook Jordan’s hand as we were introduced and expressed my surprise about this unexpected situation, to which the keyboard player quipped with a grin, “Yes, these days even the unheard Dream Theater members get to be heard!” With Portnoy having played such a huge role in every aspect of the band’s career it was perhaps inevitable that everyone in the band would have to change their roles slightly to take up the slack.
Yeah, in a way there’s been a kind of natural shift just to make up for the fact that we lost a member,” agrees Rudess, “and now we have a member that’s new and has different concerns and a different personality. At first it was a little bit ‘Oh my God! What are we going to do now?’, but
then we started making lists of what needs to get done in this band. Mike Portnoy had so much to do with so many things that we really needed to step up to the plate and say, ‘OK, we’ve been a little bit complacent here, let’s figure out what needs to happen,’ which I think
we’ve done quite successfully.”
As for making their first Portnoy-less album, Jordan reveals that the band had absolutely no doubts that they could pull it off.
“We went into it with a feeling of really wanting to focus, do our thing and be able to create the best music that we knew how to do, just to show people that Dream Theater can continue on in a positive, strong and musical way,” he explains. “Actually the least of our concerns was the
music. If you look at the bigger picture then the guys in this band are all very capable musicians and writers, so going into this album was more about continuing on with the music as we’ve done before and showing people that everything is still cool in Dream Theater land.”
Another area where work has been spread around since Portnoy’s departure is the songwriting.
“Well,” begins Rudess, “our new drummer Mike Mangini was not there at that point so he wasn’t involved, but the main writers are John Petrucci and myself, and John Myung was very involved in the process, he contributed freely and he came up with some great riffs, and James (LaBrie) was very particular about the vocal melodies and said what he did and didn’t like, and what he wanted to keep.” But are there any songs that definitely wouldn’t have happened if Mike Portnoy was still in the band? “Yes!” he says without hesitation. “As creative and talented as Mike obviously is, his opinion and his style of drumming would sometimes push us in a different direction, whereas this way we could write whatever we wanted and then later tell Mike Mangini how to play it. It worked out
quite well for us because as composers it opened us up a little bit and gave us more freedom to do what we wanted. I liked that, I don’t want to be limited by other peoples desires or abilities.”
One of the things that the guys have complained about in the past was Mike Portnoy insisting they rehearse far more songs than they really need so that he could change the set almost nightly.
“That’s something that we don’t want to do that much anymore,” says the obviously relieved keyboardist, “and right now we’re sticking to the songs we most want to play. I don’t know how we’re going to approach it in the future but I can pretty much promise that no-one is particularly
into changing the set every night. What we really value and what everybody could never really do to a point where we were comfortable, was nailing down a show. We have sound people and lighting people and what they really need to do is time everything so that the show is really smooth, and it’s really important to all of us in this period of transition to say ‘You know what? We have the opportunity to really work out a show, so that when we move from one song to another it’ll be
really smooth and professional!’ We think the fans will really enjoy it more that way.”
Does Jordan think that the set has suffered because of that before? He pauses before replying,
“I think that the show has suffered. I think there are fans out there who value having a different set every night because they go to more than one show, but they’re relatively few, and I think sometimes our performance has suffered because of that approach. There’s a lot to be
said for a show that’s dialled in – I mean we’re playing in different towns, so how many people are seeing it from night to night? Only a few I think, so why not just do the same set and work on it until it’s dialled in, so that’s what we’re doing and it’s really working so far, there’s a lot of good stuff. That’s not to say it’s not without its challenges, and nothing against what Portnoy did - he led this band for quite a number of years and did a good job - but we’re enjoying where we’re at now, the music is really happening, we’re running around the stage and we’re smiling, and it seems like the audience seems to be really elated.”
‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ will be released by Roadrunner on September 12th.